A Double Bill of French Frogs and German Dwarfs: Ravel & Zemlinsky at the Munich Opera Festival

GermanyGermany Ravel, L’Enfant et les Sortilèges | Zemlinsky, Der Zwerg: Soloists, Bavarian State Orchestra and Chorus, Kent Nagano (conductor). Munich National Theater. 22.7.2011. (JMI)

Production: Bavarian State Opera

Direction: Grzegorz Jarzyna
Sets: Magdalena Maria Maciejewska
Costumes: Anna Nykowska Duszynska
Lighting: Jacqueline Sobiszewski


L’Enfant et les Sortilèges

Child: Tara Erraught
Princess: Camilla Tilling
Fire and Nightingale: Rachele Gilmore

Der Zwerg

The Dwarf: John Daszak
Clara: Camilla Tilling
Guita: Irmgard Vilmaier
Don Estoban: Paul Gay

L’Enfant et les sortilèges: Angela Brower (Squirrel), Kevin Conners (Tree frog) | Picture courtesy Bavarian State Opera, © Wilfried Hösl

Putting Ravel’s L’Enfant et les Sortilèges and Zemlinsky’s Der Zwerg on the same bill, as Munich does with this 2011 production, is unusual but not without charm. Neither are often performed operas, and when L’Enfant et les Sortileges does get an outing, it’s usually in the company of the other short Ravel opera, L’Heure Espagnole. Der Zwerg has a similar stage-buddy and in this case has left its traditional partner of Eine Florentinische Tragödie for a little French exploration. The result is this unusual couple with surprisingly little in common for two operas premiered within three years of each other; 1922 the Zemlinsky and 1925 the Ravel.

The March premiere of this double bill was reviewed on Seen and Heard by Jens F. Laurson (read the review here). I would only add to his remarks that on this occasion there was a remarkable lack of coordination in the first part of L’Enfant between what we saw on stage and what happened on the upper screen.

In the large cast of Ravel’s opera Irish mezzo soprano Tara Erraught as the Child stood out, handicapped by a stage production that did not help the projection of the voices during the first half of the opera. Swedish soprano Camilla Tilling, too, was excellent as the Princess and Rachele Gilmore shone as the Fire and the Nightingale. Laura Tatulescu showed her beautiful voice as Shepherdess and the Bat. In general, all the characters were very well cast.The musical direction was in the sure hands of Kent Nagano, whose reading was brilliant if perhaps lacking great enthusiasm. He was at his best in Zemlinsky which was enough to make for a remarkable musical evening.

In Zemlinsky’s Dwarf British tenor John Daszak played the lead, overcame the many difficulties of the score rarely sounding forced, and offered a very convincing interpretation despite being neither deformed nor miniscule in stature. The Infanta Clara was taken on by Camilla Tilling again, and her beautiful voice was well suited to the character, although Zemlinsky’s hefty orchestration meant that she was sometimes hard to hear. Irmgard Vilsmaeir provided an excellent portrayal of Ghita except for her tight and unpleasant high notes.

José M. Irurzun.